Steve Love's Reviews > Android Karenina

Android Karenina by Ben H. Winters
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May 24, 12

Read from November 26, 2010 to January 11, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I loved Anna Karenina, so add in robots and how could Android Karenina not be good? Leave it to Ben H. Winters to squander his opportunity to do something brilliant.

The sad truth is Android Karenina's robots are little more than props. They're introduced early on as the "beloved companions" of their human owners, and only seem to exist for the sake of boosting the self-esteem of these humans. When Stepan Arkadyich feels guilty about cheating on his wife, his robot companion consoles him by matching his mood and displaying "memories" of her on his display monitor. The robots rarely speak, and when they do, it's usually to echo a phrase said by their owner. We're told that they are confidants and sounding boards for ideas and great discussions, but we never see these discussions take place.

Some minor spoilers ahead.

The villain of the story, Alexei Karenin (Anna's cuckolded husband), has a robot of his own — his "Face". The inherent ridiculousness of this aside, the Face eventually takes over Karenin, and uses his position in the government to confiscate everyone's robots in the guise of having them adjusted. The reader, along with a few of the central characters, eventually learns that this is all an evil plot. While the characters are desperate to save their robots, whom they love like brothers or sisters, the reader could care less. Ben H. Winters has not developed the robots has characters, and as a result, this whole plot evokes about as much concern or sympathy as does a weekend of Blackberry or iPhone network outages.

Winters lets even more air out of the crisis of his plot as the people of Russia start to enjoy this new life without robots and electronic gadgets. So is the reader supposed to be rooting for the resistance movement that's trying to rescue the robots? Or for the villain Karenin?

And then it becomes clear what's happening here. Winters is attempting to make us learn something about ourselves and our own gadget-obsessed society. At this point, feel free to throw the book across the room and abandon any remaining hope that the story will redeem itself without the need to have a moral at the end.

The end of this book couldn't have come soon enough. I very nearly gave it two stars, wanting to shrug it off as OK, but the parts that make it almost likable are the parts that come more or less from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The addition of robots, mad scientists and aliens does nothing for the original story, and when judged on its own merits, Android Karenina is weak and hardly interesting.
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Reading Progress

11/26/2010 page 175
33.0%
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Steve Love I wouldn't worry about the spoilers. You shouldn't read this book. In any case, the spoilers are what I'd consider minor. I give away some of the plot points, but not the resolution of the story.


message 2: by Christiane (new) - added it

Christiane I can't recall whether anyone professing contentment with the low-tech transition was portrayed by the author as sincere; I remember people being quick to voice opinions in line with the government, out of fear of retribution if they were suspected of discontentment. I never felt that Winters was preaching about relying less on technology.

I can't compare with Tolstoy's work, but I don't think I would have gotten thru the original, yet there was enough of interest in this version to keep me reading.


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